York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust to perform The Barbours Play at Holy Trinity Church on Saturday and Sunday afternoon

Sally Maybridge’s John the Baptist and Michael Maybridge’s Jesus Christ with Helen Jarvis and Lydia McCudden’s angels in rehearsal for The Barbours Play at Holy Trinity Church

PAUL Toy directs the York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust community cast in The Barbours Play: The Baptism of Christ on Saturday at 2 pm and 4 pm and Sunday at 4.30pm.

This play from the York Cycle of Mystery Plays will be staged in a 20-minute performance of words and music in the garden of Holy Trinity Church, Goodramgate, York, as part of the St John’s Eve Festival.

Supporters Trust chair Linda Terry says: “We were delighted to respond to Holy Trinity’s invitation to stage a Mystery Play as part of the festival. In the church calendar, June 23 is the festival of St John the Baptist, hence our choice of play.  

“It is the only play in the cycle significantly featuring the Baptist. We hope to attract people to the performance who have not had chance to see a Mystery Play before, as well as those in the city already familiar with the tradition.”

In Toy’s cast will be Michael Maybridge as Jesus Christ and Sally Maybridge as John the Baptist, accompanied by Helen Jarvis and Lydia McCudden as angels.

Tickets cost £5, under-15s £2, with some availability at the gate on the day. Box office: ticketsource.co.uk/york-mystery-plays-supporters-trust/

REVIEW: Charles Hutchinson’s verdict on York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust, A Nativity for York, Spurriergate Centre, York

Anastasia Crook’s Mary with infant Jesus wrapped in swaddling bands in A Nativity for York. All pictures: John Saunders

COVID cancelled last winter’s edition of A Nativity for York and did its worst to scupper this year’s return after a two-year absence.

Nine out of 16 cast members had tested positive during rehearsals, one actor’s all-important negative reading on the day of the dress rehearsal ensuring clearance for take-off.

Divine intervention, you might say, and the arrival of this new-born production under the guiding light of Alan Heaven’s direction is indeed something of a miraculous conception. The very subject of A Nativity, of course.

The shepherds: James Tyler, left, Effie Warboys and Mark Comer

Note the title: A Nativity for York. Heaven’s production is the essence of community theatre, rooted in York’s unrivalled mediaeval Cycle of Mystery Plays. From the streets, those plays move indoors, onto the stone slabs of the ever-convivial Spurriergate Centre, where mulled wine and mince pies spice up the arrival scene.

Writer, director and designer Heaven has constructed a backdrop as if from a builders’ guild – ladders, a plank, dust sheets, work bench – affording a mezzanine level for the Angel Gabriel, and providing the edifice for drapes of changing colours: blue to signify Anastasia Crook’s Mary; red for Nick Jones’s ruthless Herod; black for the hellish scene of Herod’s slaughter of the babes.

Even a clothes line pops up to emphasise the Mystery Plays’ meeting point between the utilitarian and the work of the Lord.

Nick Jones’s Herod and Wilma Edwards’s Chamberlain at a helluva party

Storytelling theatre lies at the heart of Heaven’s Nativity, a familiar story but here told with fresh imagination, shards of humour, especially for Michael Maybridge’s disbelieving, weary Joseph and the shepherds, peppered with bursts of traditional song and communal dance, to the accompaniment of arrangements by The Bertie Set, played by Diane Heaven (keyboards) and Petra Wade (recorders).

Alice Melton’s all-in-flowing-white Angel Gabriel has a shimmering radiance and even a hint of Shakespeare’s Puck when she rouses Joseph from his slumbers with a nudge in the back.

Crook’s Mary – the role every (competitive) girl wanted to play in the school Nativity Play – is played with virtue, calm purpose and awe-struck duty by Crook, with Sally Maybridge’s Anna often by her side.

The Massacre of the Innocents under Herod’s orders

Mark Comer’s Symeon is central to the lovely opening scene under an umbrella as the company spins around him in a whirl of ribbons. Harold Mozley, Daniiel Zavalniuk and Rachel Curnow’s earnest Kings contrast with the country-bumpkin airs of James Tyler and Effie Warboys, sheep under her arm, as they lead the audience in a participatory folk song that needed more clarity on Wednesday to make out what exactly chorus line was when urged to join in.

Jones’s Herod, dapper in his waistcoat and coat but devil-red in his butchery, has a sparring relationship with his truculent son (Tristan Heaven), in the tradition of theatrical fraternal frictions. Their scenes heighten the drama with a Shakespearean edge.

In keeping with Heaven’s renderings of the Last Judgement in wagon plays on the streets of York, the visual peak is the Massacre of the Innocents under Herod’s orders, a scene of terror and horror as the mothers’ screams pierce the night chill. Where earlier the ribbons signified joyful news, now they represent the guts of slaughtered children.

Anastasia Crook’s Mary, seated, in a joyous scene in York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust’s A Nativity for York

As Alan Heaven puts it: “Our production is built on juxtapositions of light and dark, joy and despair, community and isolation as we witness the depths of human suffering alongside the hope brough by the birth of Jesus.”

Words that echo through the streets of today, Christmas lights shining out against a backdrop of financial struggles, strikes, freezing temperatures and an ever greater need for hope and re-birth.

Tickets are on sale at £10, students and under 18s £6, on 01904 623568, at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk or in person from the Theatre Royal box office.

Wagons wheeled in for A Resurrection For York setting of Mystery Plays at Dean’s Park

Preparations are gaining momentum for A Resurrection For York at Dean’s Park on July 3 and 4. Picture: John Saunders

A WEEK to go for A Resurrection For York and everything is dropping into place, the cross and all, at the Residents Garden, Minster Library, Dean’s Park, York.

Initial plans for the open-air play had to be put on hold under pandemic restrictions, but partners York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust, York Festival Trust and York Minster then settled on new performance dates of July 3 and 4.

Directed by Philip Parr, artistic director of Parrabbola, the show’s format will be retained: one hour long, performed outdoors, on two static wagons, and the staging will be compliant with Covid safety requirements for audience social distancing for each day’s 11am, 2pm and 4pm performances.

Since his appointment in March, Parr has worked on the new script with Tom Straszewski, director of the York Mystery Plays’ wagon production in 2018, and auditioned a community cast, subsequently conducting rehearsals on Zoom.

Previously, Parr directed York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust’s production of A Nativity For York at the Spurriergate Centre, York, in December 2019.

Tickets are selling well – some performances have sold out already – and a civic party will attend the opening Saturday performance, followed by the Dean of York, the Right Reverend Dr Jonathan Frost, at a Sunday show.

The arrival of the wagons, loaned by the Guilds of Butchers and Merchant Taylors, was an uplifting moment, as the team of Dave Clapham, Mark Morton and Adam Robinson manoeuvred the trailer and wagons through the Dean’s Park gates, despite the tight squeeze.

Dave Clapham, Mark Morton and Adam Robinson delivering the wagons, or waggons as the York Mystery Plays historians are wont to call them. Picture: John Saunders

On those wagons, the cast will be performing a script by Straszewski and Parr, created from the York Mystery Plays cycle of the crucifixion and the events that followed.

Michael Maybridge, who will play Pilgrim 2, says: “What this script brings to mind is the experience of the very earliest Christians. We might think of our play in terms of the medieval citizens of York, reminding themselves of the narrative of their faith by telling each other stories.

“Many of those Christians found themselves travelling, just like the pilgrims in our play. They carried on telling their stories, and it seems uncontroversial to say that, in doing so, they changed the world.”

Jodie Fletcher, taking the role of Mary Cleophas, says: “The Mystery Plays are a unique part of history, and for me the magic comes from the beautiful and poetic language. It has been wonderful to be creating theatre once more and I hope audiences will find the experience revitalising.”

On July 3, the 2pm performance will be livestreamed on YouTube at youtube.com/watch?v=UXChGFomf5M and on Facebook at facebook.com/events/584796139152052/.

In addition, the Saturday performances will be filmed as a “record to view later”. “Watch this space. We’ll let you know when it’s available. What’s more, it’s free,” says the latest York Mystery Plays Supporters Trust newsletter.

“Attending a Saturday performance? There may be incidental filming of audience members, so if you do not wish to feature, please let one of the front-of-house stewards know. You can tell them by their face mask and name badge,” it adds.

Wagon wheelers: Dave Clapham, Mark Morton and Adam Robinson

Please note, as seating will not be provided for audiences, make sure to bring a rug or folding chair. Gates will be open to the garden from 10.30am.

Tickets for A Resurrection For York are on sale at ticketsource.co.uk/whats-on/york/residents-garden-deans-park/a-resurrection-for-york/

Who will be in the cast for A Resurrection For York?

Pilgrim 1, Wilma Edwards; Pilgrim 2, Michael Maybridge; Pilgrim 3, Victoria Rooke; Pilgrim 4, Mary Callan; Pilgrim 5, Nick Jones (Narrator); Pilgrim 6, Sally Maybridge (Narrator, Peter); Pilgrim 7, Chris Pomfrett (John); no Pilgrim 8.

Pilgrim 9, Julie Speedie; Pilgrim 10, Judith Ireland (Mary, Mother of Christ); Pilgrim 11, Jodie Fletcher (Mary Cleophas); Pilgrim 12, Tony Froud (Joseph of Arimathea); Pilgrim 13, Sonia di Lorenzo (Nicodemus); Pilgrim 14, Emily Hansen (Mary Magdalene).

Pilgrim 15, Raqhael Harte (Thomas); Pilgrim 16, Samuel Valentine (Centurion); Pilgrim 17, Joy Warner (Soldier 1); Pilgrim 18, Harold Mozley (Soldier 2); Pilgrim 19 Janice Barnes Newton (Soldier 3), and Pilgrim 20, Colin Lea (Soldier 4). Plus David Denbigh.  

Production team credits:

Director, Philip Parr; associate director, Terry Ram; producer, Simon Tompsett.